German vibes and harmonica master Hendrik Meurkens emerged on the New York jazz scene in the early 1990s, and has recorded with Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, Jimmy Cobb, Ivan Lins and Claudio Roditi, among others. On this live set (at Cecil’s, the noted Newark, NJ-area jazz club), Meurkens enlists Jed Levy (tenor sax, flute), Helio Alves (piano), Gustavo Amarante (bass), and Adriano Santos (drums). The repertoire includes tunes by Brazilian stalwarts João Donato (“Vamos Nessa,” “A Rã”), Djavan (“Flor De Lis”) and Antonio Carlos Jobim (“Triste”), an Ira Gershwin standard (“I Can’t Get Started”), and four Meurkens originals. As a composer, Meurkens hears the sonic kinship between jazz and Brazilian choro, as on “Mimosa” (featuring the vibes and tenor) and “Menina na Janela” (pairing harmonica and flute leads). Meurkens also salutes Paquito D’Rivera (with whom he has toured) on “Bolero Para Paquito,” revealing an affinity for that classic Latin form.
Q&A with Hendrik Muerkens
Most working musicians limit themselves to one instrument (or family of instruments, in the case of reed and brass players) in performance. Why pursue both vibes and harmonica?
Vibes was first at age 16. Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson made me play it. Harmonica followed at age 19, after I heard...you guessed it, Toots Thielemans. No particular reason other than a passion for them. But they do complement each other. I also play a little flute and tenor, but only for myself. My great passion in life is playing musical instruments, and listening to others play them.
Do you remember the first time you heard Brazilian music?
Yes, through my parents’ record collection. They had a few basic bossa nova albums and it clicked right away. I just got deeper and deeper into it and there was no way back. I remember that my family put me to work in a bank after I finished high school. After a few weeks I went to the boss and explained to him, that, nothing personal, but I am too tired to practice after I get home so I have to quit the bank...
Do you have any strong memories of playing the gig recorded for the CD?
Cecil’s is my neighborhood hang. This was just a gig with my working quartet, plus Jed Levy as a guest. Back in December of 2005 smoking was still permitted in New Jersey. I remember that every time I played at Cecil’s I had to hang up my clothes to vent out. Cecil and his buddies are cigar smokers.